Many empires have reigned over Delhi over the centuries, making it one of the most significant landmarks on the Indian subcontinent. Among the longest-ruling empires in history, the Mughals left behind a collection of monuments, some of which are well-known and some which are not. One such lesser-known monument is the tomb of Najaf Khan.
While most people know of a suburb region named Najafgarh in South West Delhi, very few know about the fascinating story of a Mughal Military commander: Mirza Najaf Khan, from whom the place gets its name. Najaf Khan belonged to the Safavid dynasty of Persia which was displaced by Nadir Shah in 1735. He was the last heir and as a result, was taken prisoner and confined in Nadir Shah's captivity. Saadat Khan, the Nawab of Awadh, subsequently freed him and sent him and his sister to India. Later on, his sister wed a member of the Nawab of Awadh's family, and Khan joined the Mughal army. Over the years, Najaf Khan has been described as the ‘last champion of Moghal power’ against Marathas (Fanshawe, 1902), “only brave man and good general that the declining days of the Moghal Empire knew” (Hearn, 1906) and “The Lionhearted” (Sen, 1948). Najaf Khan has been compared to Warren Hastings in terms of ability and authority by Keene (Carr, 1876). Franklin (1798) thoroughly covers the period of Shah Alam II in his book, thereby chronicling the feats of Najaf Khan as Commander of the Mughal Army. Najaf Khan was a prominent figure in the military of the Nawabs of Bengal and the Mughal Emperor and was essential to North Indian politics in the latter half of the 18th century. He participated in the Battle of Buxar and held the Mughal army’s chief commander position from 1772 until his demise in April 1782.
In Delhi's Lodhi Estate neighbourhood, across from the Safdarjung Airport (erstwhile Willingdon Aerodrome), not far from the tomb of Safdarjung, the second Nawab of Awadh, lies Najaf Khan’s tomb. Due to the low-lying nature of the construction, the mausoleum is largely hidden from public view. His devoted daughter Fatima set out to build the mausoleum in 1782 CE however the tomb was never completed. Almost all of the territorial gains Najaf Khan had secured for Emperor Shah Alam II were lost within two years of his passing, and paradoxically, there wasn't sufficient money to erect a befitting tomb for him. As a result the complex of tombs still remains incomplete and only the first level and the perimeter walls are finished.
Throughout literary sources, there is only a fleeting mention of Najaf Khan's Tomb. Archaeology And Monumental Remains Of Delhi by Stephen Carr has the earliest mention of Najaf Khan’s tomb (Carr, 1876). The information about the site published by the Archaeological Survey of India on their website is a short summary of Carr’s work. The structure is regarded as being quite basic to look at and was called a "less pristine tomb" by Nicholson in his book Delhi Agra & Jaipur (Nicholson, 1991). Sen remarks that Najaf Khan's Tomb is historically significant if not architecturally noteworthy (Sen, 1948).
Belonging to the late Mughal school of Architecture, the mausoleum is composed of red and fawn-coloured sandstone and stands on a raised square platform in the centre of a square garden enclosure made in the Charbagh pattern. The main tomb is square in design, with octagonal bastions on all four corners. The bastions and tomb construction are adorned with a strip of inverted flower and leaf designs. The primary entrance to this tomb is on the eastern side, with an arched aperture in the centre. Another arched doorway within the main entrance leads to a square room containing the graves of Najaf Khan and his daughter Fatima (Ataullah speculates in his essay that the tomb may be of his sister) (Sinha Ed.,2009). Presently the Main Gateway of this tomb stands dilapidated. It was built using lakhori bricks, which became popular in Mughal architecture during Shah Jahan's reign and remained in use until the late nineteenth century (Hashmi, 2018).
The translation of the inscription on Najaf Khan’s grave is as follows:
“ He is living who will never die.
This sky crooked nature, with its back (bent) like a bow, and full of arrows of misfortune does not miss the mark, shot at the most noble of Sayyids, through whom there was honours to the lineage of Safvi Sayyids. (Who was) a worthy fruit of the garden of eight and four (i.e. twelve imams of the Shias), a pure splendours of two pearls ( Hasan and Hussain), and a gem of nine shells (skies), (Named) bakshiul Mulk Amir Najaf Khan , the lion-hearted and the conqueror of the countries of India with the help of (the command) ‘be not afraid’. A hero, if he held Zulfiqar (the name of the two-edged Sword of Ali) in his hand , the king lafata would exclaim “A worthy son”. May he be a companion of the last of the Prophets (Muhammad) with his ancestors, the revealer of the secrets “if it can be revealed”? The pen of Ali which is like (literally a twin brother of) the divine revelation, wrote the date of his death on his ashes (graves). “This is the grave of Najaf”. 1196 (1781-82 AD)
- Excerpt from The Last Prime Minister of the Mughals and The Last flicker in the Lamp of the Mughal Architecture
From 1911 until 1931, while the British were constructing their new capital, New Delhi, the tomb complex narrowly avoided destruction. It was assessed to be poor condition and the family lineage was seen to have been unfaithful to the government in the past, acting as a justification to demolish the property. Despite the fact that the tomb itself is incomplete, the entire complex has been conserved and is now a public park. Taking a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life, one might ponder the interesting narrative of a Persian explorer who played a role in one of India's most volatile eras.
- Ataullah, The City of Delhi during the Eighteenth Century: A Socio-Cultural Profile, 2008, PhD. Thesis of Ataullah
- Carr, Stephen, Archaeology And Monumental Remains Of Delhi, 1876, Rey M Werry
- Fanshawe, H.C., Delhi Past and Present, 1902, London, John Murray, Albemarle Street
- Francklin, William, The History of the reign of Shah-Aulum: the present emperor of Hindustan containing the transactions of the court of Delhi and the neighbouring states, during a period of thirty-six years, 1798, Copper and Graham
- Hasmi, Sohail, The Architectures of Shahjahanabad, July 2018, sahapedia.org
- Hearn, Gordon, The Seven Cities of Delhi, 1906, W.Thacker & Co., 2, Creed Line, E.C.
- Najaf Khan Tomb: https://www.gocityguides.com/delhi/lodhi-colony/shopping/najaf-khan-tomb
- Najaf Khan and his tomb, Delhi http://pixels-memories.blogspot.com/2014/08/najaf-khan-and-his-tomb-delhi.html
- Najafgarh: A Kingmaker in the Capital https://www.peepultree.world/livehistoryindia/story/trails/najafgarh
- Nicholson, Louise, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, 1991, Odyssey Guides
- Sen, Surendranath, Delhi and its Monuments,1948, A. Mukherjee and Co. Ltd.
- TAREEN, S. (2017). Translating the ‘Other’: Early-Modern Muslim Understandings of Hinduism. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 27(3), 435-460. doi:10.1017/S1356186317000098